Old wine dogs show off some new tricks

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By David Sly

How do reputable established wineries remain modern, and appear fresh to a new generation of wine drinkers?

The answer, for a growing number of canny South Australian wine producers, has been to create second labels that show off an entirely different side to their winemaking.

Tim Adams has benefitted greatly from starting a second label in Clare after he bought the former Leasingham winery in 2010, saving it from demolition, and recreating it as Mr Mick Wines.

He says this has presented him an opportunity to release a whole suite of new wines – embracing the new era of Mediterranean grape varieties that fascinate him, and employing techniques to provide sprightly, juicy wines without confusing his Tim Adams Wines customers who want sturdy classic wines from the Clare Valley.

Tim Adams Wines, Clare Valley. Photo by John Krüger.

“I was feeling incredibly frustrated to not be doing all the things I wanted to in making wine – and then it became clear that I needed this other wine brand to make it all possible,” says Tim.

“It wasn’t mapped out by design, but the Mr Mick story about being innovative and having fun with wine is truly authentic, and has worked.”

Tim has encouraged the creativity of young winemakers within his company, such as Brett Schutz, to employ fresh ideas. It has resulted in Mr Mick being embraced by a new generation of drinkers, taking out top honours in the Adelaide Review Hot 100 Wines in December 2016 with Novo Sangiovese.

This delicious fresh take on the savoury Italian grape, made in a drink-now style, underpins Tim’s philosophy of Mr Mick Wines being affordable wines for everyone to enjoy.

“We want people to try these new wines, to experiment, without having to pay a lot for them,” says Tim. “We want the exciting new drinking they find in Mr Mick Wines to represent fantastic value.”

Toby Barlow of St Hallett Wines in the Barossa Valley took a fresh approach and launched a new brand, Blockhead, under the St Hallett range.

St Hallett Wines is one of the Barossa’s champions of serious old vine shiraz, but Toby Barlow, director of the winery’s premium winemaking operations, knows there’s more than one way to make shiraz, which is the reason behind its new Blockhead by St Hallett range.

“I think we were in danger of being pigeon-holed as a wine brand confined to one style and one audience,” explains Toby. “We had to ask ourselves ‘How do we introduce ourselves to different customers?’ We took a completely fresh approach; a new brand name and look to the label, a deliberately modern wine style, at a more modest price.”

The result has been an immediate retail acceptance, convincing Toby there is room for more wines in the Blockhead range, possibly with blends involving grenache and touriga grapes.

In the Adelaide Hills, The Other Wine Co has emerged as a companion brand to Shaw + Smith Wines, presenting grape varieties and fruit from regions that fall outside of Shaw + Smith’s carefully curated brand.

Several strong minds and wills are central to this wine business. Owners Michael Hill Smith and Martin Shaw have a particular vision of what belongs within the limited range of Shaw + Smith wines.

However, senior winemaker Adam Wadewitz has ideas for unique wines that stretch far beyond what Shaw + Smith represents. So, rather than ignore or suppress these ideas, The Other Wine Co was born to present small batches of unique wines – old bush vine grenache from McLaren Vale, textural pinot gris from an elevated altitude
plot in Adelaide hills, and, still in barrel, is petit verdot from Kangaroo Island.

“We have the facility to look at so many interesting individual parcels of fruit, and we can react to them under the Other Wine Co label,” says Adam. “It’s very exciting for a winemaker, and it makes clear sense as a wine producer.”

McLaren Vale winemaker Ben Riggs says releasing a very different suite of wines without confusing the solid identity of his longstanding Mr Riggs label led to the recent launch of his companion label, Mr Bright Side.

The 2018 Mr Bright Side 2018 Preservative Free Shiraz.

Capturing bright, juicy fruit flavours within a distinctly fresh, modern style, the lively quartet of Mr Bright Side wines stand as a marked contrast to Mr Riggs’ more muscular and forceful wines.

It’s an important new market positioning statement for Ben, who was crowned a McLaren Vale Bushing King for his super-concentrated shiraz.

Mr Bright Side shows a very different portfolio, comprising a pale grenache rose, Adelaide Hills pinot gris, a preservative-free shiraz, and a lively red blend called Eurotrash, combining tempranillo, lagrein, grenache and petit verdot.

It answers critics who have intimated that Ben Riggs only makes one blockbuster style of wine. “I love making all styles of wines, and a lot of people forget that as a contract winemaker, I already make many wines in these styles for other people,” explains Ben.

Introducing another wine brand has allowed him to define and focus on specific strengths in his winemaking.

“It reinforced in my mind exactly what each of my wine brands should be, without compromising either. And while Mr Bright Side may seem like fun, smashable wines, it takes no less energy to make them. It only means I have to craft beautiful wines in a different way.”

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